Are You Not Boys?


I know you well. I see you for your entire waking day, every day. I see you seeing things. I watch the germ take root in your brain, I see you test it out under your breath, I see you toss it at your brother.

“Don’t call me poo!”
“You’re a poo!”
“Don’t call me poo!”

and then you look at me slyly.

“Mummy, you’re a poo!”

I know you are calling everyone poo because the girl in your preschool class did it. You told me, the day it happened. You told your grandmother. You were thrilled. One of my peers did a naughty thing. I know it was naughty because everyone laughed and she was asked to stop doing it. Twirling in ecstasy, you were.

In a month, you will be Four and your Four is assertive. “I will do this thing. You will not tell me not to.” Your Four is bossy. He is flexible and reasonable when he wants to be and totally hurt that I don’t understand, the rest of the time. Your Four is suddenly aware that I might not be the boss of him. What to do with that delicious knowledge?

Out of context, you – and your brother – sometimes sound barbaric. Walking down the street, flinging “poo!” back and forth at each other like monkeys having a verbal war. If, god forbid, the neighbours hear you (and how could they not?) they will think you are terrible children indeed. Or, they will shrug – because you are boys. And then you will become one of their anecdotes, where they tell some other person how these boys they know, whooee! are they wild! All they do is shout and scream all day long! Boys. Man. Can’t live with ’em, can’t send ’em to the corner store anymore. They’ll just go out for smokes and never come back!

Since I have become a mother of boy(s) I have learned what Boys Are Like from countless strangers, acquaintances, and media who have taken chance encounters with boys and spun them into myth. You Can’t Stop A Boy From (yelling / fighting / making fart jokes / digging holes with shovels / playing with trucks / being obsessed with poo). Boys are (messier / slower / less affectionate / more violent.) And while all those things might be true for individual boys that somebody knew once, that doesn’t make it true for everyone.

I am tired already of listening to people of all ages and sexes tell me what boys are like. I may become a Boy Activist. I get so frustrated when people tell me what you are like, based on their anecdotal evidence and 5 seconds observing you. They know what life will be like for you. They know that someday you will abandon me to go fishing, you’ll never call, I’ll sniff your baby hats, alone and maudlin. This, from people who have their own children, from people whose own children are standing right there, listening, absorbing. You hear it too, because you are listening and absorbing. Standing right there.

I am glad, in many ways, that neither you nor Fresco is a girl.

(I like girls. Girls are awesome. I used to be one.)

But because you are both boys and because you are as different from each other as night and day, you are my Living Proof that all children are different. That often, genitalia has not much to do with it.

You like baking and making beer and dancing and singing songs.

You are obsessed with changing your clothes, particularly since you got new underpants. You sometimes go through 15 outfits a day – not because you’re messy but because you like dressing up.

You like playing ball and playing tag and blowing bubbles and pretending you are a Ghostbuster, even though you have not seen Ghostbusters. You shoot things with your Ghost Guns. Fresco does it because you do it. I do not think this makes you BOYS. I think this makes you a kid and his younger sibling.

I don’t want to neutralize you. You are boys. But at 4 and 2 years old I will not limit your interests and activities based on what other people say “boys are like.”

I want you, not society, to define who you are.

If you want, I would love to help you design a t-shirt that says “This is what a boy looks like.” And then we’ll get one made every year of your life, in every colour of the rainbow and you can rotate shirts 15 times a day. If you want.

yr mother.
(who is not poo)

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